TED: InsideOut Project

A little over a year ago, I wrote about my fondness for TED Talks, those 18-minute-ish presentations that are the product of the TED organization‘s various showcases of cutting-edge thinking and creativity.

Well, the 2011 TED Conference in Long Beach, California just wrapped up, so there’s a whole slew of new talks available online, adding up to hours of thought-provoking and entertaining viewing.

My favorite talk so far happens to be the TED Prize winner. The TED Prize is awarded to someone who is doing particularly inspiring work, they receive $100,000, they get to present at the TED Conference, and they get to state “One Wish to Change the World.”

This year’s winner, French street artist JR, works in a medium sometimes called flyposting, whereby he takes black and white photographs, enlarges them to a massive size, and then pastes them predominantly on the sides and rooftoptos of buildings. (I say predominantly, because he’s also flyposted on things like trains and stairs, the latter you see in the photo I’ve posted here.)

I have to admit, I’ve always harbored a degree of ambivalence toward street art. While I’ve written before of my appreciation for graffiti as a legitimate art genre, over the years I have sympathized with private property owners who have to invest time, money, and effort to remove unwanted graffiti and other street art. And while I still don’t advocate wholesale vandalism or territorial gang tagging, JR’s presentation really opened my eyes (no pun intended, watch video for the reference) to the powerful underlying statement being made by street artists.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled The Cruel Joke of Austerity Measures, in which I expressed my outrage over the growing consolidation of wealth and power amongst a minute minority of people, a consolidation and hoarding that constitutes nothing less than the growth of oligarchy, all while vast millions of people suffer deprivation and starvation, and millions more struggle to prevent sliding down the slippery slope toward poverty.

In that context, the desire of a private property owner — a member of that small but powerful privileged class — to keep their buildings and communities visually pristine, is so powerfully symbolic. Their underlying motivation, of course, is a fear and repulsion towards all things related to poverty, and so they cocoon themselves in their squeaky clean estates, trying to blot out visions of tin shack shanty towns and war-ravaged landscapes.

As the dominant species inhabiting a planet in crisis, we simply can’t afford that kind of complacency, and our conscientiousness really shouldn’t allow it.

So, JR’s wish to change the world?

I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.

As a start, he’s launched the InsideOut Project, asking people all around the world to join in this work. I’ll let the video explain the rest.

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